It is almost impossible to adequately describe the importance of the July 11 mayoral election in Monroe. Bluntly put, the city’s future is at stake.
Since June 2001 Jamie Mayo has served as Monroe’s mayor. At times, Mayo has distinguished himself as a forthright leader who appeared to enjoy broad support among the city’s diverse residents, both black and white, rich and poor. At other times, though, Mayo has served as a lightning rod in dividing the city along socioracial lines. Awarding two keys to the city of Monroe to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, an avowed racist and an anti-Semite, comes to mind. And Mayo embraced him.
Mayo should be credited for balancing city budgets while juggling a tax base that has not shown robust growth in years, but therein lies one of the reasons why Mayo should not be re-elected.
Economic growth in Monroe is virtually invisible. Mayo says he’s in charge of economic development for the city. Accordingly, he bears responsibility for Monroe’s abysmal economic activity, which without a doubt has fueled the city’s loss in population for the past two decades, now far below 50,000 residents.
Since the mid-2000s we have witnessed the closing of the Guide plant, State Farm’s Mid South Regional office and most recently, Monroe’s only Fortune 150 company, CenturyLink, began moving employees out of the city at a fast clip to CenturyLink offices in other cities in other states. In the not-too-distant past, CenturyLink employed more than 2,300 people here. Today, that figure is possibly as low as 1,500 workers and declining. There’s no denying it. There’s also no denying that while CenturyLink claims Monroe is home for its corporate headquarters, the decision makers at CenturyLink — including its chief executive officer — no longer work here and do not live here either.
All signs tell us CenturyLink’s presence in Monroe will become a thing of the past when the company’s existing economic incentive agreement with the state expires in just five years. What is Mayo doing about it?
It would be disingenuous to solely blame Mayo for employers abandoning Monroe on the mayor’s watch. However, any reasonable individual would recognize the city’s ever-present crime problem and its lackluster infrastructure, including Monroe’s propensity to flood during heavy rainfalls, are detrimental to the city’s efforts — or lack thereof — to create jobs for Monroe’s residents, let alone retain the jobs that are here today. Furthermore, entrepreneurs are well aware of the difficulties of dealing with the city’s glacial bureaucracy in trying to open a business to do business in Monroe. It’s beyond laughable, but it’s no laughing matter.
Mayo’s grand plan for the future of Monroe hinges on the construction of a more than $100-million arena to replace the aging Civic Center. It’s wishful thinking, and the proposal should be put to bed forever forthwith. Yet, Mayo has already committed the city to an $800,000 feasibility study, which ironically Mayo refuses to release to the public because he claims the study has not been completed. It’s been dragging on for more than three years. Why? What is Mayo shielding from the public? Is he concerned the feasibility study calls for the city to raise property taxes 10-fold to pay for the construction of this boondoggle? Perhaps.
In the final analysis, however you analyze it or dissect it, Mayo is responsible for the city’s failures, just as he can take credit for the progress the city has made during his time in office though we cannot point to any of any significance.
Mayo’s toughest challenger in the mayoral election is a small business owner and a former Marine. His name is Friday Ellis. Ellis’ wife is a career educator who has spent the bulk of her career teaching in schools that serve impoverished students. They have three children who attend city schools including a seven-year-old they adopted when the child was two. She happens to be biracial, a point worth making since Mayo has tried in vain to frame this election as a black man running against the evil white man.
Ellis very correctly pointed out in his visit with The Ouachita Citizen that Monroe’s path forward economically must be centered on the small business community and not aimed at trying to convince the next Fortune 500 company to locate here. Tax incentives could be in the offering — even for the smallest of small businesses — through a coordinated effort between the city and the chamber of commerce. The hiring of a top-shelf, well-qualified economic development director is priority No. 1.
All of the talk about breathing some life into Monroe’s economy would be for naught if the city’s residents must live in fear of being robbed or shot by a criminal. In spite of what Mayo claims, Monroe is not a safe city. Ellis knows it and pledged to hire the best man or woman qualified to serve as Monroe’s police chief, who must stabilize the department to improve morale. In other words, Monroe’s police chief would not get the job simply because he’s the mayor’s buddy.
Make no mistake. Monroe is at a crossroads. The city is in trouble, economically and public safety-wise. It needs new leadership. It needs a new mayor.
Monroe needs Friday Ellis.